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Colman Mccarthy: Mandatory Minimums Snaring Small-Time Drug Offenders


March 1993

Mandatory minimum drug sentences eliminate judicial judgment and treat defendants like "slabs of meat on a judicial conveyor belt," according to Washington Post syndicated columnist Colman McCarthy (Colman McCarthy, "Justice Mocked: The Farce of Mandatory Minimum Sentences," Washington Post, 2/27/93, A23).

Writing about a first time offender sentenced to two years (without parole) for a minor role in a small drug deal, McCarthy said that mandatory minimums are being meted out mostly to small and first-time offenders who have no significant information to trade to prosecutors in return for lighter sentences. Despite the increasing numbers of low-level drug offenders imprisoned, mandatory minimums have not deterred higher-level drug dealers from conducting business, he commented.

McCarthy quoted Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "The moral of this story is that if you're going to get caught on a drug charge, be a kingpin. You can talk and get off lightly. It also means that those who have little or no information to bargain with get the hardest hit."

On February 17, Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) introduced legislation H.R. 957, repealing Federal mandatory minimums. There has been growing opposition to mandatory minimums including from the American Bar Association, judges in all 12 judicial circuits and the U.S. Sentencing Commission, McCarthy noted.